It can be difficult to stand still, to feel the wind, to be aware of bees, to not move as they buzz near my ears. It is a requirement, though: they have important stuff to do.
So I stand still for a moment. I breathe deeply. There is perfume in the air from a mixture of mown grass and the freshly picked chamomile I hold in my hand. I sense the warmth of the sun on my dark hair.
It’s important for me to breathe deeply, otherwise I can get lost in a flurry of activities. I notice that I don’t breathe deeply when I look at a screen. I don’t breathe deeply when I’m behind the wheel of a car. I don’t breathe deeply inside a shop. Rather, my deep breaths only happen when I find that my thoughts are too jumbled. Usually I’m outside.
I need to breathe deeply right now. I am one of many parents who have been faced with a choice, or in some cases no choice at all, to send their children back to school within the next few days and weeks while a pandemic still rages. It has been difficult to sift through the data and wonder what the best approach will be. It is tempting to scurry about and do little tasks to distract myself from the decision that has to be made, but that is not helpful.
These little moments of clarity are helpful for me, though, for the decision that has to be made. They make time go more slowly, or at least they remind me that I am a blip in time. This moment is one of many in a minute, which is one of many in an hour, which is one of many in a day, which is one of many in a week, which is one of many in a month, which is one of many in a year, and so it goes.
2020 is one year. It is unlikely many of us will forget the year that the novel coronavirus raced around the world. In some ways, however, it has made us breathe differently, perhaps more carefully, perhaps more wistfully. We feel overwhelming loss. There are many countries that have succumbed to this pandemic, and within those countries are many communities, and within those communities are many neighbours, families and friends, and so it goes.
While I am fortunate to have not lost a dear one to the pandemic and I sympathize with those who have, I also feel one overarching loss: the loss of what was considered status quo. It is frightening and thrilling to face. It’s also enormous.
It would be easiest to distract myself from seismic changes, but many changes are happening and more are coming. The writer Naomi Klein has commented on the opportunities this brings: as governments have supplemented incomes in countries around the world, people in those countries have been pondering a more just society, less divided by class and wealth. On the other hand, some titans of the economy have distinguished their bank accounts even more than before, and they have the clout to make those distinctions permanent.
Other seismic shifts include how we view caring for the most vulnerable in our society, as well as how we value health care and education. It is not for naught that numerous parents groups have started to demand smaller classrooms, better facilities, better equipment for educators and their support staff. Parent councils and volunteers have been patching up school shortages for years, and the pandemic has taken off any hazy film left on that sepia-toned mental picture I have of education.
How is it that volunteer groups of parents have been raising funds for ventilation systems in schools? How is it that teachers can count on a single hand the number of washroom facilities in a school that hosts hundreds of students?
I consider education a fundamental human right for everyone, regardless of class, wealth, skin colour, sexuality and other distinctions. That right entails access to clean water, air, healthy environments and safe spaces. To hear that these things are too expensive to provide to children and educators makes my stomach tetchy.
So I go back to breathing deeply, taking careful stock of the situation. After all, breathing deeply reminds me not only of the little things, like the insects, but also how they altogether affect the big things, like crops, which feed more than just me. And I stay standing still, because awareness of the smallness of me and the largeness of my world is a good thing to remember, just as it is good to remember that though I am one, I can make a difference.